REVIEW: Kraftidioten, The Better Angels & The Two Faces of January (2014)

Halftime. Six days of Berlinale are over, and apart from Nymphomaniac Volume I, The Dark Valley and A Long Way Down, I saw a couple of other films that I can’t hide from you.


The Better Angels

Diane Krüger stars in A. J Edwards’ The Better Angels portraying three years in the life of later US-president Abraham Lincoln. The boy lives with his family on a shabby farm in the woods of Indiana. Edwards emphasises the boy’s relationship with his dreamy mother, who encourages his exceptional thirst for knowledge and creativity. When she dies, his father marries another woman (Krüger). How will the boy cope with her?

Artistically shot in black and white, the images easily outplay the storyline. If it wasn’t for a few hints on the boy’s identity, the tragedy of losing a parent and being confronted with new family members is nearly too average to fascinate for 90 minutes. Furthermore, the cousin, who’s voice tells the story, describes the kid in a way, that is can be read as pure glorification.

It is the beautiful landscape that saves the film: the rustling trees in the wind, the sparkling water in the riverbed, and the lightheartedness with which the children enjoy the nature surrounding them. Pretty to look at, but not very meaningful.


The Two Faces of January

Although director/writer Hossein Amini takes his cast and the audience on a journey to Greece – one of Europe’s richest countries in culture and landscape – his new film Two Faces of January doesn’t live up to the expectations.

In Athens in 1962 two tourists, Colette and Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst), trust their safety in the hands of American tour guide Rydal (Oscar Isaac). An accident forces them to leave Greece without their passports. Thanks Rydal’s ability to speak Greek and his pettycrime contacts, they make it to the island Crete and wait there for their newly issued documents. But jealousy and mistrust soon start to threaten their relationship and widens the cracks in an already distressed marriage.

Desperately Dunst tries to give the femme fatale, but fails miserably as her character is reduced to an object of lust and possession in the eyes of the two men. Both, Rydal and Chester, act selfishly and not even the decent performances of Mortensen and Isaac can make up for it.

However, it was good to see Isaac in another role, after his big success with the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis. The hostile, deserted landscape of Crete mirrors the malicious relationship between the two men. Unfortunately though, the negative outweighs the positive.


Kraftidioten (In Order of Disappearance)

My favourite thing about Norwegian films? They tend not to take themselves too seriously. At first glance, Hans Petter Moland’s Kraftidioten sounds like a family/revenge drama per excellence. One day in winter Nils’ son Ingvar is found dead – a heroin overdose. Nils (Stellan Skarsård, however, is convinced of his innocence. His marriage falls apart and just before he gives up entirely, he discovers evidence leading towards his son’s murderers. Nils sets out to avenge his son’s death, but hooks up with the wrong crowd.

But Moland takes this tragic idea, adds black humor, social criticism and splatter-worthy bloodshed to compose a delightful mosaic of modern Norwegian society. Before butchering drug barons, Nils accepted an award of “Citizen of the Year”. Supervillain the Count (Pål Sverre Hagen) is a vegan bobo fighting over custodian rights with his Danish ex-wife, while his employees are secretly in love (one of them is International Shooting Star Jakob Oftebro). And while the Count continues to mix up Albania and Serbia, the Serbian Papa (brilliantly interpreted by Bruno Ganz) and his men get involved like in a bloody comedy of errors. Guy-Ritchie-esque the two enemy gangs gradually take over Nils’ mission.

Ill-tempered maniac, sulking child and cold-blooded killer the Count is the paradisiac bird among the smorgasbord of characters. Hagen embodies him with a sleek hair-do, mad eyes and shrill voice. Elegantly he moves through his representative home and candy-colored hideout, gives his son inappropriate advice and pulls the trigger without hesitation.

With a story being more amusing than expected, Moland suprises his audience. Only the snow-covered rock of the Norwegian mountains remind us constantly of the tragedy that hides within.


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